Tag Archives: nhs

A Promise is a Promise

wedding rings

One Thursday 3rd November I celebrated my Silver Wedding Anniversary and consider myself lucky to be someone who has found his soul mate. So my mind went back to the promises we had made on that day which, in my own imperfect and flawed ways, I have kept. But my mind also went back to a few days before my anniversary, when I was called out to Critical Care. Here was another couple who had been together 25 years – first meeting whilst working for the Government under the Official Secrets Act – both with risky jobs. But now his wife was critically ill and about to die. When I met Ron [not his real name] he hugged me and wept profusely on my shoulder. “I love her so much!” he said. “We’ve been through so much together; I don’t know how I will live without her.” He told me about their life together; their love; and his heartbreak now- and then he asked me to do something: “Will you baptise me?” he asked. Ron explained that he had always promised his wife that he would get baptised but had put it off and off. He believed but there had always been something more pressing which prevented him from doing it. “Please will you baptise me in the presence of my wife while she is still alive.” So in a congregation of four, with the nurse from the Unit joining us at Ron’s request because she had been so kind, I baptised this man, on his profession of faith, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And then we prayed that God might welcome his wife as she embarked on the next stage of her journey. “See, I’ve kept my promise to you Darling. I’ve been baptised and you’ve been part of it.And with that, she slipped away. Heartbroken would be an understatement to describe Ron’s emotions, but he took some comfort that he had fulfilled the vow which he made to his wife in her lifetime and had kept his promise ‘til death did them part.

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life at the Meadow Birth Centre Worcester Royal

The Tree of Life at the Meadow Birth Centre Worcester Royal

As I walk the dogs in Nunnery Wood, I can’t help but notice that I am now trudging through a mass of leaves on the ground; and looking up, through what a couple of months ago was verdant green tree canopy, I can see branches, and even the grey sky.

So you might be interested to know that there is a certain tree that is bucking the trend; and it is rooted in Worcestershire Royal Hospital. Week after week, even at this time of year, it grows leaves; all unique and super-special. It really is a tree of life.

Now if you wanted to find this tree you would have to come into the hospital, and head towards the Meadow Birth Centre. You won’t see any leaves on the ground but you will see a state of the art purpose built midwifery led unit that is like a 4 star hotel: soft lighting; huge birthing pools in the rooms for water births; and staff who are caring.

And at one end of the unit, painted on the wall is a huge white tree against. When I first saw it was just bare branches; white on a blue wall. But since the opening of the unit, leaves have been added. First one or two; then tens; now 100’s and more leaves every week. And each leaf has written upon it the name of the baby who was born in the Centre; name upon name.

And on days that I feel I have seen too much sadness and grief and pain; I head to the unit; say hello to the staff; and look at the tree.

This tree is literally life giving. And it gives me hope knowing that new lives are coming into the world in an atmosphere of love and care.

Not everyone has the privilege of seeing this tree; after all it’s not a visitor attraction! But the next time you look at the falling leaves and bare branches around you, then think of the Tree of Life, and treat yourself to a smile.


Destiny, aged 4

Destiny, aged 4

Imagine a world in which the local hospital has run out of basic drugs such as paracetamol.

Imagine a world where you had to travel 300 miles to see a heart specialist.

Imagine a world where your 4 year old child cannot be treated for a heart condition because the medical facilities are not available.

Imagine the dilemma of how to save your child’s life when it would cost more than you could ever afford.

I try to remember some of the people I met in north-west Uganda who face these issues when I am sitting in the GP’s waiting room, watching the information board tell me that the doctor is running 10 minutes late, then 20, then 30… I hate waiting! I get stressed and up-tight waiting! But after the waiting, I am privileged to receive excellent health care, free at the point of delivery.

However, there is waiting, and there is waiting!

My friend, Isaac, who I met in Arua, Uganda in August 2014, shared his story with me about his family’s experience of health care. He himself is involved in health awareness campaigns and providing vaccinations to children. However, his own son, Destiny was diagnosed with three holes in his heart when he was a baby. Destiny is now four and attending school, but he has frequent illnesses, and his development has been delayed. His parents have been advised that he urgently needs surgery, and this March, after months of waiting, Isaac and his wife took Destiny to Kampala, 300 miles away, anticipating that surgeons visiting the country would perform the operation. They stayed in a hotel for 10 days, leaving their 2-year-old son back in Arua – costing them both financially and emotionally. On arrival, due to administrative problems, there were no records of Destiny, and the expected treatment was delayed. Several days later, the operation was scheduled, but on admission it was decided that the procedure was far too risky and would need to be carried out overseas.

The waiting is still not over for Destiny, as his parents try to seek funding, now not only for the treatment that their child needs, but also for the travel and accommodation costs to the UK.

There is waiting, and there is waiting.

I know what it is like to fight for the services that my children need, and my heart goes out to this family who are so hard-working, who give so much to their local community, and who love their children just as I love mine. I am grateful that I live in a country where my children can access healthcare locally, and where I don’t have to worry about how I will pay for expensive treatment if they have a serious illness.

Don’t take the NHS for granted. I certainly won’t. It’s not perfect, but it is a gift.

Alison Southall

Faith, hope and dementia: ‘Why did God give me Dementia?’

Lucy Frost Guest Blogs about #Dementia

Lucy Frost, Guest Blogger, speaks about #Dementia and Spirituality

Sometimes I invite guest bloggers, from other specialities, to post on the Blog. The only trouble is that they do it so much better than me. Lucy Frost and Peter Wells are no exception. In a thought provoking, inspiring and moving blog they help us to think about spiritual care. And if you want any more stories by Lucy you can visit her blog at http://t.co/7hkpKRG4x5.

Read on….

A Strategy for equality and diversity? Tick. Meeting of ‘Spiritual need’? Tick. Of course, we seek to holistically meet the needs of those we care for. It’s a tough ask in a very busy hospital. What is spiritual need anyway? Ah, of course, it’s the essence of who we are. Sharon Janis in Spirituality for Dummies helpfully talks of the great divine light that shines in us all. Of course, the word ‘spirit’ can be whatever gives ‘meaning’ as an individual.

I can tell you plenty of stories of clumsy attempts to meet spiritual need, but you’ve probably heard them before. You know, the wheeling across to the chapel on a Sunday a handful of patients, fit enough to make the trip. Probably because *Mrs Jones daughter said mum went to church once in 1953. The setting up of a table in a corner with a selection panpipe CD’s and a sign saying ‘Spiritual Space’ (Yes – I have actually seen this). Easy to feel disheartened then.
So it feels quite hard to meaningfully give spiritual care for a person with dementia: How can we bring comfort to those we care for? A quick fire search of ‘religion and dementia’ finds articles and web sites lauding the ‘comfort’ faith can bring. This is surely true if the opportunity to embrace one’s own faith is given truly and holistically.

A divine light? Spirituality for Dummies can’t surely have it nailed so simply? Is that really what exists within us? That can’t surely be the definition of what lies within ourselves? So many questions, and not really a right or wrong answer.

So, how do we, as nurses, doctors, health care staff, reach out to that light and meaning that’s there inside all of the people we care for? Of course!! We call the hospital chaplain/ Imam / faith leader, because he/she will have all the answers. Alas they are not always available instantly. Trouble is, for those of us who help people with dementia – they often are living for the moment. ‘Sorry, could you just wait while I contact the hospital chaplain now I’ve assessed your spiritual need’ – It’s just not going to cut it.

‘Why did God give me dementia?’ This is a question I was faced with not so very long ago. A person with a recent diagnosis of alzheimer’s disease asked me this. This person had a strong Christian faith. They said: ‘I must have done something really bad for this to happen’. Patricia Higgins, writing in the Catholic Medical Quarterly, reminds us of the need not to confuse spirituality as being the same as religion. A common mistake it seems.

So, what did I say to this person who asked me possibly the very hardest question I have ever had to answer? To be honest, its times like this, when you could use an hour or two to think about the right answer. Well, I didn’t have two hours – I had that one precious moment to help this person in their time of need. I said ‘I don’t know. I don’t think it was God that gave it to you, it seems like it’s your body that has given you dementia. Maybe your faith in God will give you the strength to live with dementia’ ‘I hope so’ was the reply.

Hope! I realised that in hope lies a possible answer to this conundrum. What always amazes me, and inspires me is this: The people with dementia I am so privileged to help, still have hope. They have lots of hopes. Yes: People with dementia have hopes, fears, dreams and aspirations as we all do. Why shouldn’t they?

A hospital is where people come in a time of crisis. I see a lot of people living with dementia, for who life is throwing a lot of challenges their way. For this person, their reply of ‘I hope so’, came with a smile. As we held hands – I felt I had helped to connect them with their feelings of hope. Hope through faith in this person’s case. Wow: What a moment. What an utter privilege for me as a nurse.

A person with dementia might be hoping they will not need to move to a care home, they may hope friends will still visit, still care even. They may hope for their physical health to remain robust. The point is, there does always seem to be something to hope for. We must help the people we care for reach for that hope. Maybe that comes from ‘recognising that light within’, but it definitely comes from seeing the person and not the illness.

Faith might be religious, it might be a faith in a way of living, it might be a faith in one’s own beliefs and values. It’s deeply personal and unique to each human being. Dementia can tap away at your cognition, it can take away your physical ability to do many many things. Dementia can’t touch that light within. It can’t erase feelings.

We often talk of inspiring and amazing people. Well here is someone who really does fit that billing. Christine Bryden, a lady living with dementia, has written about spirituality in her book ‘Dancing with dementia’. It’s a bold statement, but I agree with her. “Dementia cannot touch your very soul, existing at the heart of many layers of self. If we, in our efforts to reach out to a person with dementia remember this, and we see inside beyond the disease: then there can indeed be ‘Faith, hope and dementia’.”

Lucy Frost: Dementia Champion and Nurse Specialist, Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust.
Reverend Peter Wells: Lead Chaplain, Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust kindly proof read and assisted the author with this blog.


Ooops...Wrong Train Home!

Ooops…Wrong Train Home!

Today is International Nurses Day 2014, so here is my tribute to all the dedicated nurses, past, present and future.

It had been an exhilarating and inspirational day. So at Paddington station I took stock of what I had experienced.

Then, with my train being called, I rushed with the crowd, got on the train, found a seat, closed my eyes and promptly fell asleep hoping to wake up in my destination: Worcester. I woke to the voice: “The next station will be Didcot.” Funny, I thought, but we did come through Oxford on the way down so it’s close enough!” After dozing again the voice from the intercom said “The next station is Swindon!”

I knew that this meant TROUBLE.

The woman at the refreshment bar gave me the clue with her Welsh accent and words (with a kind of shrug that confirmed I was an idiot) and told me I was heading across the border to Swansea.

Suffice to say all ended well and I got home with help, just catching the last train of the night from Bristol to Worcester Shrub Hill by the skin of my teeth.

But what inspiration event had caused this mishap?

Well I was coming home from London having been at the Student Nursing Times Awards as a guest of my friends at NHS Employers.


Nominee after nominee shone with enthusiasm, energy, creativity and passion.

In a former life many years ago, I myself had been a young student RMN; and I felt a surge of joy to see the pony-tailed male winner go and collect his award (remembering that I had long hair once!)

And then there were the Caremakers! People who had signed up as trailblazers for the 6C’s: Care, Compassion, Competence, Communication, Courage and Commitment. Each one a winner in their own right.

Any my favourite of all, Emily Gartshore, winning Student Nurse of the Year, and posing for a ‘selfie’ on the stage with the great and the good.

I felt so proud to have once shared in the profession of nursing

I knew that the future of nursing was in good hands with these students at the vanguard

And I was inspired again at the compassion, care, courage, commitment, competence and communication which was modelled by these nurses.

Almost worth nearly spending a night in Swansea!

So Happy International Nurses Day 2014!

Treading in the Footsteps of Others: A Chaplain’s Compassion

Others will follow your footsteps easier than they will your advice.

Others will follow your footsteps easier than they will your advice.

I used to play a game on the beach with my daughter when she was younger.
I would walk along the shoreline, barefooted in the wet sand, and she would follow me, trying her best to walk in my footprints and not leave a mark of her own.

It’s easy to think that we are IT isn’t it? Well it is for me at least!
The fact that we are here NOW is obvious. But many have trodden these paths before us, doing the job that we do, making a difference.
We really do stand on the shoulders of giants.

This was brought home to me by a recent email from a retired Chaplain who was a perdecessor of mine: Canon Lisle Ryder.

Lisle had seen mention of my blog somewhere and wrote to express his appreciation. He worked at Castle Street and Ronkswood before the new site and was instrumental in the spiritual care provision (including our lovely Prayer Room) at the present site of Worcestershire Royal Hospital until 2003.

And in amongst all that he went about his business of caregiving and compassionate actions.

Lisle sent me a beautiful poem with a short explanation, which for me sums up what the business of Chaplaincy and care in the NHS are about. It moved me; and I hope it does the same for you.He says:

“This is about Jim (I’ve used his real name). I had been with when his wife had a stroke and he was a wonderful support through her recovery. Later he was admitted himself as a patient and in the meantime his wife Isabel had died. He so much appreciated seeing someone who remembered her.


You look so pleased to see me
from far along the ward – Jim:
I recognised you after several years and,
returning after analgesia relieved the pain,
shared Communion. Christ’s love
which reminded you of the struggle
of Isabel. Memories re-enacting
that stroke which took so much.
I recalled her first words, that revealed her
Scottish – the long commitment you made
to her recovery. You took her home – risen.
Her life I remember vivid, but her death
is absence.
I left you sorrowful, but
somehow thankful for what we’d known, and shared
and treasured of Isabel – her courage, our faith
made new there at the bedside. Bread
and wine hallowed again and again – risen.

I Just Can’t Imagine It…On the Loss of a Baby

No footprint is to small to leave its impact on the world

No footprint is to small to leave its impact on the world


I have three teenage children and life is often chaotic, but I wouldn’t be without them – even on the worst of days. And whilst, like many of us, we have had our fair share of tragedy, we are all still here.

But really I can’t begin to imagine what it is like for the mother, carrying her baby for so long, to lose this little one. And what it must be like for dad, or grandparents, or family and friends.

To be confronted with the loss of a fragile little life seems cruel; no, it is cruel. And as much as I try, I can’t put myself in that place.

But I can imagine the treatment I would want from the health professionals around me in a situation like this. I want medical competence, of course. But I want understanding and compassion and sensitivity and care.

This is a big ask anywhere. Who is up to such a task?

Well, I received a most moving letter from someone whose daughter had just lost a baby and was care for on Lavender Unit at Worcestershire Royal Hospital. Did they receive such treatment? READ ON:

“I am writing to you as I note you wish to hear of the wonderful work done at the hospital.

My daughter was cared for over six days whilst she sadly suffered a late miscarriage on Lavender Ward recently.

Every single member of staff we encountered was outstanding in their dedication to their very difficult work. Not only do such circumstances demand the highest level of medical care, but also a clear understand of very complex emotions.

Firstly, the cleaners. They were just so lovely as they unobtrusively appeared and kept [N’s] room beautiful- their level of attention to detail and kindness was wonderful.
Then the Health Care Assistants- so discreet and careful as they made sure my daughter was comfortable and was eating enough to keep her energy up.

And the doctors and consultants, of whom there were many, and yet the consistency of approach and continuity of care was outstanding. Their skills and compassion created an atmosphere of confidence and most certainly diminished my daughter’s most extreme fears.

And, of course, the nurses. I lost count of how often I saw them work beyond their designated shift times to ensure [N’s] wellbeing. Their clear knowledge and understanding of her circumstances, and their swift action at the most difficult times exemplified the very best of human endeavour.

Not only that, but everyone working on the ward showed such care and concern for me and for my daughter’s partner.

Since her discharge, I would also like to pay tribute to the Bereavement Services from the Hospital who visited [N] and her partner at home. Their visit coincided with a very hard period for her – one of those days when it is easy to be overwhelmed by sadness and loss. The visit visibly lifted both of them, allowing them to express their deepest thoughts and to receive exactly the right comfort to sustain them as they adjust to their lives.

I have written to the ward, but saw your request on the website. It’s so important, especially in our negative media-led times not to overlook the everyday work of the highest levels of professionalism which goes on in our Hospitals.”

[Name and Address Supplied]